While we would all like to get a good night's rest, a surprising number of us are getting less-than-optimal sleep each night. Because our society places so much importance on being active and staying busy, it can be easy to get caught up in the waking state and develop bad sleeping habits. Many of us don't take time to truly unwind, and some become dependent on electronic devices to lull them to sleep. Here's where sleep hygiene comes into play. Sleep hygiene is a set of recommended behavioral and environmental practices that promote better quality of sleep overall. Here are just a few:
1. Avoid the Troublesome Trio: Caffeine, Nicotine and Alcohol.
You may be wondering why alcohol, a well known depressant, is on this list. Believe it or not, alcohol has been found to disrupt sleep patterns, usually in the second half of the night when the body begins to metabolize the alcohol. This process can cause arousal in the body, leading to a more shallow level of sleep.
2. Only Use Your Bed for Sleep!
Let this be your mantra: "My bed is for sleeping, and sleeping alone." Some days, it can be way too easy to use your bed as a multipurpose piece of furniture, especially if you're a college student. I'll be the first to admit; in college I used my bed as a desk, couch, table, trampoline, you name it. When you reserve your bed for sleeping purposes only, you train your body and mind to respond to your bedroom environment by getting sleepy. (And to the cheeky ones reading this article: As far as we know, adult activity in bed is fair game. So... go ahead).
3. Scale Down Dinner
Large meals before bedtime can cause insomnia, especially if those meals include lots of sugar or interfere with your dietary restrictions. Try to stick to a healthy diet and dial down the portion size of your dinner. While many of us eat the most at night, some holistic health practitioners recommend a large breakfast, medium sized lunch, and small dinner. Want to experiment with a new diet? Nighttime ain't the right time! Avoid eating new or heavily spiced foods before catching your Zs.
4. Exercise Early or Try Some Gentle Evening Yoga
More vigorous exercise should be done in the morning or early afternoon. When we work out, a hormone called cortisol is released to help the brain respond to physical stress. Although this is a healthy and necessary process of physical exercise, cortisol can most certainly keep you up at night. Slow, sleep-friendly exercises, such as restorative yoga, are permissible for an evening practice.
5. Ditch the Electronics
Let's face it, many of us do it more than we'd like to admit. However, scientists and doctors are now recommending an "electronic cleanse" before bedtime. It's thought that at least 15 to 30 minutes of screen-free time before bed can lead to healthier sleep. This is because the type of light emitted from screens has been found to counteract the body's natural tendency to get tired at night, leading to uneven sleep patterns and shallower sleep. Keep your bed computer and phone free, and try to watch your shows early in the evening. Your body will thank you!
6. No Napping
If you are struggling with insomnia or poor sleep quality, naps will not help you get back on track. Taking long daytime naps can majorly mess up your sleep patterns, so if you must recline, limit your siesta to 10 to 30 minutes and keep it before 5 pm.
7. Go Outside (Natural Light)
Exposure to natural light during the day is a healthy and easy way to ensure a higher quality of sleep, as sunlight helps to regulate our sleep-wake cycle. This tip is especially important for elderly people who may not get out as much as children or younger adults.
8. Keep A "Sleep Friendly" Bedroom Environment
Find creative ways to keep your cave cozy! Dark, cool spaces are ideal for inducing sleep, so whip out your heaviest curtains and make sure the heat's not on full blast. Live in a noisy neighborhood? Try earplugs or a white noise appliance. If your pets wake you up during the night, consider making the bedroom a no-pet-zone.
9. Be Consistent
This is probably the most important, yet hardest to follow tip on the list. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (yes, even weekends) sets our internal clock to get tired and arouse at consistent times. Even if you have a particularly lousy night of sleep, wake up at the same time you normally would. Your body's need for sleep will help you get some solid rest the following night.
10. Establish an Evening Routine
Smooth the transition from wakefulness to sleep by setting aside one or two nightly "rituals." A personal favorite is the ever-relaxing evening bath, while a more convenient choice might be to read a book (but not in bed! See tip 2.) This routine will eventually tell your body to start gearing down for dream time. Also, try to avoid heavy conversations before bed. This is "you" time. If you have a tendency to overthink or worry at night, try keeping a nightly journal to sort out all your thoughts.